Sunday, November 20, 2005

We the Killers of Innovation

What kills innovation? When I think about true innovation I think about the things that truly change the way I view the world and my work. When a friend of the family showed me that he could write code to develop games for the Commodore 64 it mesmerized me. I never knew a regular person could understand dots and dashes in a way to create something logical and stimulating for a human being. This was the first glimpse I had into what was about to occur. It was innovation self aware.

I grew up around computers. My father worked for a technology company and used to bring home the first small mainframes. I would actually work on a dummy terminal set up in an office in our house. The printer on this thing made the house shake—seriously! But it wasn’t until college that I saw the next significant leap in technology—turning the world wide web into a graphical environment. I played around with the web prior to this but it wasn’t that stimulating. You could find information but most of it was geeky and for a college student not that exciting. Mosaic changed this. A friend of mine showed me a browser that allowed me to see pictures on the web. This was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Okay, I’m known for being dramatic—but at the time it was truly amazing to me! I don’t think any of us realized what this meant or how it was going to change the us.

The next big leap for me is when DOS went away. I worked on Windows 3.2. I tried to stay away from DOS as much as I could but there were times I was forced to get in there to do certain things. I was also using a Mac at school and preferred this environment over Windows 3.2. Then Windows 95 was about to be released and I knew DOS would go away. I remember arguing with a computer geek I worked with who thought I was crazy when I said no common person would ever use DOS again. She thought I was an idiot. Long story short, I was right. Who would want to use DOS? If technology isn’t making things easier than what’s the point? Mac lost massive market share and I became an avid Windows user—along with millions of people around the globe.

What now—Google? Search? Yes, this is part of it but I’m not sure this is the end all. Google Earth is probably one of the most impressive things I’ve seen recently. It’s not perfected yet but it’s taking the web and adding a whole new dimension to it. This is significant. I’m not going to go into a seven page rant on why this is significant but it is. You will see. This is my next prediction and I’m sure I’ll hear people tell me I’m an idiot—but who cares. I won’t even say I told you so—it’s just my opinion. For the most part the web is two dimensional right now. Google Earth is making it multidimensional. We all know search is the hot topic right now and we know why—because information is power, there is a lot of information, and search helps us find the information we need to have power. Google Earth allows us to see this information in a way that is more human than it has ever been. Okay—that’s all I’m going to say about this.

So, what kills innovation? How many of you have asked your ATS vendor to customize their product? Why?...because you need it to play well with your internal bureaucratic created processes? Right? If it was truly innovative would you need to customize it to work for all of your processes? Probably not! If it was truly innovative wouldn’t it just work? Wouldn’t it just make your work better, faster, more efficient? We kill innovation when innovation truly doesn’t exist. The recruiting tools industry hasn’t really been that innovative. Right now most recruiting tools are based on a database with recruiting steroids. That’s it! There are innovators out there and I know who they are. They may not be innovative in every part of their business but they are innovating. The ATS space has been underwhelming to say the least. The entire industry has been. If you dropped your ATS tomorrow and used Outlook would life really be that different? REALLY?? REALLY, REALLY? Do you think you could create a system without it and keep your time to fill and quality of hire the same or better? I would put money on it that you could.

So what the heck is my point here? Three things!

  1. When innovation truly doesn’t exist we ask vendors to customize the heck out of it to fit our crummy processes. We kill anything that they developed that is unique because it wasn’t innovative to begin with.
  2. Innovation doesn’t come often—but you know when it does. Don’t confuse design for innovation.
  3. Never underestimate crazy ideas. Whenever someone is running an idea by me that I think is crazy I always stop myself and think twice about it. It may be the next greatest thing. Don’t underestimate the power of dreamers.

We kill innovation because we spend money on things that aren’t innovative. We also criticize ideas that we think are crazy. Take a look at what your recruiting team spends money on and ask yourself what would happen tomorrow if it was gone. What else COULD you be spending money on? What would happen if you took the most obscure idea you heard this year and actually tried it? What would happen? What would really happen? I know, some bureaucrat would probably complain and it would feel like the end of the world. But what would really happen……..

Friday, November 04, 2005

Jobster Advisory Born

I’m a firm believer that relationships that start off controversial can lead into some of the strongest. This is the way I feel about Jobster. When Jobster was in its early stages, about a year and a half ago, I heard rumor of them from some of my colleagues in the industry. I knew that there were a few organizations working with them on a pilot program and I knew it had something to do with a referral network. Other than this I didn’t know much else about them.

I then started to receive e-mails from Jobster. They were personalized mails signed by the CEO himself, Jason Goldberg. The Senior Vice President of my team received one, our President received one and I received one. The mail basically said that this is a new innovative way to build your talent network and we would love to tell you more. When we replied to this mail we got nothing back. This was frustrating, especially since our President specifically asked me to see what Jobster was all about. I went onto their website to learn more. I immediately felt a connection with their brand (from a look and feel), however, it was still confusing to me what they did. I got the fact that their tool was about networking with the right candidates but it was hard to figure out how it actually worked. Finally, out of frustration, I put up a blog entry about my experience with them. This was the first time I saw some light at the end of the tunnel.

Miraculously, the chief Jobster himself, Jason Goldberg, read my blog and sent an e-mail to me. He basically said anytime you are ready to know more about what we do, bring it on. This immediately impressed me about the organization. It was the first step in changing my perception and my experience up to this point with them. I told Jason to sign me up—I wanted to know more. He sent Heather Grey out—one of his top sales executives, to show us the product. After my meeting with Heather my perception of them had gone full circle. I hadn’t used the product yet but I knew that I would. There were several things that jumped out at me. They were hiring smart people, they understood the power of a brand, they care about their customers, they are in it because they are passionate about it and they are innovating.

Then we tried the product. Our start was slow. We had to manually enter the contacts into Jobster, enter in our job advertisements and then manage the leads that came in with minimal information about them. It was something new and with anything new it takes some pain to get to where we needed to go with this. This was several months ago. We just ran our latest account executive and senior account executive campaign and the light bulb finally went on. We made contact with several great people. One of them is in Hong Kong and the other in Seattle. These are the type of people that I definitely want to talk to. We haven’t made a hire yet but we are in interviews with candidates from Jobster and I have no doubt that we will make our first hire very soon—and they will be strong hires. If I look at what I invested in the product so far, even if I make two hires this year, it will pay for it. And this is just the beginning. The product is starting to gain momentum.

So where are we now? They value the customer’s voice and they invite controversy. They truly feel this is the essence of what will allow them to become better. So they invited several recruiting professionals up to Seattle to listen about what they can do better and what they are doing well now. This is something I value about them. They brought me up to Seattle and did a lot of listening. I also had the honor to sit in the room with other top recruiting professionals from Nike, Starbucks, EDS, MITRE among others. We had the opportunity to meet their people. Later on we went to Wild Ginger and got to know each other on a more personal level. Over dinner I had the pleasure of talking with John Atkins, lead Product Manager, and Ethan Lowry, Vice President of Product Design. In addition to almost figuring out the future of all innovation I learned how to get all the food to our end of the table. Ethan also taught me how to accidentally lose a glass of merlot and miraculously end up with some top notch Pinot from Oregon—one of Goldberg’s favorites. The night ended with Heather Grey and me chasing a mini-van through the rain. All in all it was a great experience. The Jobster team realizes there is still a lot of work to be done but they are listening to their customers and they are thinking about the right things. They have the building blocks for something great. Thanks for the experience Jobster!